The Deadly Consequences of Purity Culture and Hate | Sojourners

The Deadly Consequences of Purity Culture and Hate

People leave flowers outside Young's Asian Massage following the deadly shootings on March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Eight people were shot dead in Georgia: Daoyou Feng, Hyun J. Grant, Suncha Kim, Paul Andre Michels, Soon C. Park, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Ashley Yaun, and Yong A. Yue.

A 21-year-old white man, Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Ga., confessed but told investigators the crimes weren’t racially motivated, even though six of his victims were Asian women. After his arrest, Long told investigators that he suffered from sexual addiction and saw the massage parlors as “a temptation... that he wanted to eliminate.” Law enforcement officials in both Cherokee County and Atlanta, where the killings took place, have charged Long with murder but are still considering whether to charge Long with a hate crime.

White conservatives have spent the last year using racist nicknames for COVID-19 and blaming AAPI people for the pandemic. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased by nearly 150 percent in 16 of the largest cities in the U.S. in 2020, according to research released earlier this month by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State, San Bernadino.

The day after the killings, Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Teo Armus reported for The Washington Post on Long’s ties to the Southern Baptist Church, specifically an ultra-traditionalist and conservative offshoot called Founders Ministries, which lists the church where Long was baptized as one of its member congregations. Long’s former youth minister, Brett Cottrell, told the Post that Long’s father was “considered an important lay leader in the church,” and the family attended morning and evening activities on Sundays, as well as meetings on Wednesday evenings and mission trips.

Once we might have questioned how this “good church boy” could turn into a killer. We would have called him a “lone wolf.” We would have wondered about mental illness, about family trouble. We would have talked about Long as an individual, rather than explore his place in a pantheon of angry, white, male, conservative, Christian mass shooters.

Today, that narrative has been proven not only wrong but deadly. Hatred and violence are preached from too many American pulpits. American history is clear: Hate spawned whole new white denominations, including the Southern Baptist Church which was formed to keep Black people enslaved. And more recently, the North American Lutheran Church was formed in 2010 to prevent LGBTQ people from becoming pastors or being married in the church.

Cottrell said Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Ga., had several non-white members, but he couldn’t recall whether the pastors preached about racism.

What the church did preach about was impending apocalyptic doom. In a video captured by the The Washington Post before it was deleted from the church's website, Rev. Jerry Dockery at Crabapple Baptist preached a sermon about how the apocalypse was near and Christ would soon return, waging war against those who had rejected him. The Post noted it was unclear whether Long heard this sermon. Earlier today, the church released a statement condemning Long’s actions as “antithetical to everything that we believe and teach as a church,” rejecting “all forms of misogyny and racism,” and emphasizing that Long himself — not his victims — was solely responsible for his sin.

We do not know where Long learned to hate. What we do know is that Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” But in so many U.S. churches that message has become: “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.”

Despite Jesus’s commands to welcome the stranger and set the captives free, many white Christians have learned to hate and fear non-white Americans. Christians are known for their support of the U.S.-Mexico border wall and their condemnation of the movement for Black lives.

Despite Jesus’ example of treating women as equal bearers of the gospel, like the woman at the well (John 4), many Christians have been taught that women are under the “headship” of their husbands and unfit to preach, lead men in Bible studies, or serve on leadership boards at church.

Despite God’s insistence that all human beings are created in the image of God, many Christians have learned to hate themselves when their relationships don’t conform to the pattern their church taught them: a dominant man and a submissive woman. Purity culture portrays men as voracious, nonsensical lusters, and women as guardians of family honor, without capacity for intimacy or pleasure themselves. Anyone who experiences attraction outside a 1950s-esque evangelical ideal of a (white) man and woman with several children is dirty and impure, destroying the so-called American ideal of family — an ideal that generations of white men have built.

Despite God’s insistence that swords shall be beaten into plowshares, guns are sacrosanct among too many white American Christians. According to 2017 Pew Research data reported by Christianity Today, white evangelicals are more likely than members of other faith groups or the average citizen to own a gun, and they’re also more likely to carry it with them wherever they go and support lax gun regulation. Like those in the crowd before Pontius Pilate who shouted, “Crucify him!” White American Christians prefer killing to life itself. We glory in killing machines and slaughter ourselves in the process.

Ultimately, Long didn’t see the women he met at the massage parlors and spas as people. Instead, he seems to have seen the women as sexual temptresses, Jezebels; or as Long himself put it, a “temptation” to be “eliminated.” They were obstacles in his way — and he had access to a gun.

For white Christians, our so-called faith rings hollow. We have blood on our hands. Long’s massacre of innocent people was far from the first instance of white American Christian terrorism — nor will it be the last. Those of us who oppose this hijacking of our faith must speak clearly and forcefully against it, backing up our words with our deeds and repenting of our sin.